Stay over the detectors at traffic lights that are red

The in basket: Janine Barrie writes, impassionedly, “Please put the word out to all who are the first vehicle in the left turn lane. This problem has happened numerous times to me, but (last) week was the last straw. I need to complain to someone who might be able to help.

“I have been the second or third car from the white stop line in the left turn lane. The first car is 10 to 15 feet from the white line, and guess what happens, or should I say does not happen.


“That problem happened three times last week, and made me late for an appointment,” she said. “It happened on McWilliams in front of Safeway, on Central Valley at Fairgrounds and Central Valley at Bucklin. The first one mentioned was the worst and the longest wait.


The out basket: Unlike Janine, I rarely fall victim to such a clueless driver ahead of me. But for those drivers who don’t understand where traffic detector wires, called “loops,” are located in the pavement, and how they work, I’m happy to oblige.

The wires are imbedded in the pavement just behind the broad white stop bar at signalized intersections. You often can see the patched grooves into which they have been inserted. They detect the mass of a vehicle above them and inform the traffic signal that someone is waiting.

If a waiting driver at a red light doesn’t position his vehicle over the wires, the signal probably won’t react to the vehicle’s presence.

I occasionally do see some car pulled past the white stop bar, which inconveniences only that driver, and only until someone else pulls up behind, over the wires. If a driver doesn’t pull forward far enough to cover the wires, as Janine describes, there’s not much those behind can do except walk up to the driver and say to pull forward. Honking usually doesn’t convey the intended message.

Fortunately, I’m usually in another lane when I see this, and am not delayed by it. The last time I was behind a driver who stopped short of the wires, I finally got out to urge him forward … and the light changed before I got to the car. Then I became the problem, as I had to run back to my car, start it and proceed. I caused a bunch of drivers behind me to wait another full cycle, as I did. Evidently, the driver ahead of me wasn’t a far off the wires as I thought.

It’s hard to imagine would kind of bum luck would cause a person to run into this frustration three times in a week, as Janine says she did.

If you see a slender vertical pole with a camera-like device on the signal cross-arm ahead of you, the detectors are optical and you have more latitude as to where you can stop.

For both loops and optical detection there is a defined detection area,” says Jeff Shea, Kitsap County traffic engineer. “So the vehicle does have to be in a specific area, but with optical detection we can make that area bigger than some loop configurations.”

One thought on “Stay over the detectors at traffic lights that are red

  1. The McWilliams intersection has problems. Sometimes, large commercial trucks will straddle one of the lane markers. There are occasions were both as a pedestrian and a driver, I’ve seen people drive up just behind the line, and the lights won’t cycle, until left/straight/right areas on the intersection are occupied. Those loops need to be checked.

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